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Auntie Beeb: The BBC is not a benign senility

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Unsplash: Matthew T Rader

First, watch this.

Nobody puts Auntie in the corner - or rather everyone does.

Real aunties often get shoved there at family gatherings, lest they foul the living room air with unfortunate opinions. But the most foulsome of them all - the BBC - holds forth freely, all year round.

She's not your real Auntie, anyway. We should stop calling it that. It has the same familiarising effect as 'Boris'. The BBC is not a benign senility.

Political campaigners on both sides (one more convincingly than the other) have long berated the broadcaster's bias, but the reportage of the coronavirus debacle should put to bed any scepticism; BBC News has been instrumental in covering up the government's blunders and disguising the real malice of their strategies.

Why are we undisturbed that 'Downing Street sources' are so frequently credited by the BBC's Political Editor?

Public sentimentalism exempts the BBC from the scrutiny placed on others. We collectively confer integrity-by-association, because of its affiliation with authority, but this presupposes that the authority in question has any integrity of its own. We are both a nation mistrustful of politicians, and one which allows them a collegiate relationship with the public broadcaster, as if this doesn't invite partiality. This assumed air of decency is what makes the BBC a most effective misinformer. It's no news that we trust suits and lick boots.

Even opposition figures defend the BBC tooth and nail, yet it can scarcely be denied that its coverage helps them lose elections. 'Free licences for OAPs', they say, even though pensioners seem especially receptive to flagrant McCarthyism. Older people remember when 'Auntie knows best' meant something. However, she's good at convincing them to vote for the party casually declaring that elderly pandemic victims 'would've died anyway'. The trust is misplaced.

Now, read this.

There's not space to analyse all of the last weeks' spin. It's debunked elsewhere by those more qualified. Ask a medic, unless you're sick of experts. The sick rarely are.

Crises, though, may force pragmatism on our leaders, a mothballing of ideology. When it becomes politic to place a moratorium on more self-serving, peacetime pursuits, there's the risk of betraying the fact that they know, deep down, what constitutes righteous governance.

BBC News: "Hancock: £13.4bn NHS debt to be written off."

Good. But the NHS is not some failing business. It's a welfare state service. It doesn't 'owe' monies equivalent to its deficit. Its deficit is equivalent to its underfunding. No 'debt' has been written off, yet the article uncritically repeats the claim, if not at the Health Secretary's instruction, then certainly to his satisfaction.

The literal and metaphorical casting couches are in the skip, where they belong

Perhaps light entertainment and news provision have no business under the same roof. One shouldn't be sugar for the other's pill, especially when it's prescribed to undermine the public's ability to make unbiased democratic choices. Anyway, someone else would make Mrs Brown's Boys if the BBC didn't.

Equally, there are other news outlets which don't hold your LOLs ransom till you've taken your medicine. They do make some decent programmes, but so might other providers given the same advantage.

There prevails a myth that, were the route most travelled to close, talent would find no other path to exposure. Well, the gatekeepers would say that, especially on a toll road. If we allow the establishment to be cultural arbiters then we deserve the banality we get. It shouldn't anoint kingmakers.

How hopelessly outdated and demeaning to those in the arts who use modern, democratised platforms to progress independently. When you're running a museum, the future is a foreign country (just look at who's still presenting on the BBC's 'cutting edge' music station). Outdated rituals mustn't be allowed to slow the vanguard's innovation. The literal and metaphorical casting couches are in the skip, where they belong.

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It's always people who believe in the stabilising power of market forces who demand exemption for their pet projects.

When oligopolist billionaires threaten to shut up shop if they're made to pay taxes, it's leveraged by the falsehood that they are 'wealth generators'. But the market would not disappear for want of their taking a share in it. Jobs shift to the rivals who capitalise. There might be a price to the consumer if the successors insist on the same margins; they may settle for adequate ones, and an ethos of sustainability, but unless it was snake oil being sold in the first place, the customer demands and the market supplies.

This applies to broadcasting too. The BBC may consider itself a monopoly in the statutory sense, but that doesn't guarantee its market dominance.

Is the licence fee good value? A lot of it is spent on sending heavies round to non-customers, another bizarre exemption from acceptable standards of business. We afford the BBC the deference reserved for officialdom, yet it conducts itself like Brighthouse. Who else can demand entry to your home to accuse you of shoplifting a product there's no evidence you've ever used?

Showbiz is lucrative at the top, for its incorporated journalists as well as its entertainers. It can't be escaped that the best paid among them have the biggest incentive to shill for a government favouring wealth.

This applies across the media, of course, so why should we automatically attach greater credibility to any one provider? Perhaps, if the playing field were levelled, in terms of respect, they'd all start competing harder to seek out truth and insight.

We can't euthanise Auntie (and perhaps she would've died anyway), but since she's incorrigible, I hope we can learn to stop taking her ramblings at face value and disabuse ourselves of the unhealthily quaint idea that she knows best.

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